A story is told about a little girl walking along the beach tossing starfish that had been washed ashore by the tide back into the ocean. An old man watching her asked, “You can’t save all of them. Why bother?” The little girl replied, while tossing another one back into the water, “Well, it makes a difference to this one, and this one,” tossing another, “and this one,” tossing another.
As the gargantuan task of implementing the goals of the Unity Women’s Desk (UWD) began to unfold before me as the Coordinator of the UWD, I was reminded of this story. We couldn’t save all of the oppressed women in the world, not even all of the oppressed Moravian women. What we could do was save one girl or woman at a time.
So, a few at a time, we began granting scholarships, making grants for women to start businesses, and supplying funds for projects like conferences to get the women of various provinces together to introduce them to the idea of the UWD.
Since the UWD began making scholarship grants in the summer of 2012, we have given full or partial scholarships to over 40 girls and women. The grants have been made in Tanzania, Zambia, Uganda, Jamaica, Star Mountain, India, Nepal, Peru, Albania and Sierra Leone. Here is a selection of the work we’ve done:
• One of our first scholarship grants was made to Star Mountain in Ramallah in the West Bank to give three Palestinian girls scholarships to continue their education there. Ghada Naser, Star Mountain’s director, explained to us that while they weren’t Moravian girls, their parents would know that the women of the Moravian Church wanted to help girls who otherwise could not get an education.
• Sr. Lettice Joemath of Lansdowne, South Africa submitted applications for 27 girls at the Dietrich Primary School there. We realized that with our limited funding, we would have to put a cap on how much we could award in each Province/Mission Province/Mission Area and decided to give as many scholarships in each area as could be covered by $1,000.00. Although we have not been able to support every girl or woman who has asked for full scholarships, we have been able to assist at least some of the applicants from every province, including girls at Dietrich Primary.
• When Sr. Mariana Cordova Estrada was offered a scholarship to attend seminary in Costa Rica, we provided the necessary funds for her to fly to Costa Rica from Peru. She is now continuing her studies to become an ordained pastor in the new mission area of Peru.
• When the women of Jamaica began their 70th anniversary of women’s work there, they decided to give four scholarships of $1,000.00 each to four Jamaican girls and applied for assistance to the UWD to help raise the funds. We gave them $400.00 to kick-start their campaign, then promised to match their fundraising up to one-half of their goal. They quickly were able to grant all four scholarships at their big 70th celebration last summer.
• Sr. Agness Njeyo and Sr. Mary Kategile organized a training seminar to help the Women Secretaries of Tanzania and the surrounding areas, such as Uganda, Malawi, Congo, Burundi, and Ruvuma-Njombe to complete applications, make loan requests and submit business plans. Soon thereafter, requests began arriving from Zambia, Uganda, and various provinces and mission areas of Tanzania.
• In late 2013, we received a request for a scholarship for a young woman at the Rajpur Institute in India. Her family had been abandoned by her mother when she was very young; then, just before her final year of secondary school, her father died, leaving her without funds to finish her education. Her application was exemplary and came with recommendations from Moravians outside of India who had met her. The scholarship was granted. We received a glowing letter from her, thanking us for our assistance. She recently ranked very highly in the national examination for nursing schools and had been accepted in a program in Madhya Pradesh. We intend to continue assisting her until she finishes her nursing studies to become a certified midwife.
• Similarly, in 2013, we received a request from Sr. Vani Pradna to assist a three-year old in their pre-school in Nepal. Her father had died, and her mother (who was very helpful in the church there) did not have the funds to allow little Grace to continue to attend. We debated whether to assist someone in pre-school, but since we had not had any other requests from Nepal, we granted the scholarship. Several months later we learned that Grace’s mother was suffering from leukemia and that Grace’s being in school during the day was a great benefit to her mother, whose treatments were not going so well.
• This past fall, Sr. Safie Braima brought us applications and pictures of eight girls that needed scholarships for the secondary school in Sierra Leone. Although we were already sponsoring three girls with food in the “Feed the Children of Sierra Leone” program started by Little Church on the Lane in Charlotte, N.C., we decided to give scholarships to all of the girls because we could do so and still stay within our $1,000.00 limit. Safie recently sent us a picture of the girls in their lovely new uniforms.
When applications for business loans and scholarships from Zambia started arriving weekly, we had to cap the amount we could loan for start-up businesses to $5,000.00 per Province. We made sure that the women understood that if they did not repay their loans, their other sisters would not be able to start their businesses in years to come.
One of our most ambitious business loans was made to Sr. Rachel Katale of Kigoma in the Lake Tanganyika Province. When I first met her in 2008, she was trying to support her family in a new mission area that was very poor. The Western Province was not able to provide her husband, the minister in Kigoma, with an adequate salary to support their family of five.
Sr. Rachel was an excellent seamstress and was interested in starting a sewing school. With the help of Sr. Anne Geis, we supplied her with a business plan format on which she worked diligently for two years. With the help of the Morongo Moravian Church and the United Brethren’s Elders’ Fund, we were able to lend her money in late 2012 to start her sewing school.
While the government shut her down two months later (we now make sure that business loan applicants have the necessary permits before the loans are made), she was able to re-open the sewing school in late March and is now starting her second class of students. She is also ready to start repaying her loan.
Making a difference
Space does not permit me to tell all of their stories, but the letters of gratitude and biannual reports on the progress of our scholarship recipients assure us that we are making a difference in the lives of these forty-plus girls and women.
Admittedly, the UWD cannot save all of the Moravian women of our world, but we do think we are making a difference in the lives of as many of them as we can. The Synods of the Northern and Southern Provinces will be asked to allow the UWD to conduct an interprovincial capital fundraising campaign to establish a lending “bank.” We would also like to establish a Scholarship Fund and raise our provincial limit to at least $2,000.00 per year for education.
We have faith that our two North American provinces can set the standard for other provinces to follow their lead and find ways to support the Unity Women’s Desk as we seek to serve the women who comprise well over 60% of the membership of our Moravian Church.
The Rev. Patty Garner is the coordinator of the Unity Women’s Desk
From the March 2014 Moravian Magazine